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What is it about live figure drawing that can bring a small group of artists together with a common goal for more than 25 years?

Ask and you might get a different answer from each group member. Yet all nine members of the Pattee Canyon Ladies Salon will tell you that drawing the human figure is all about an artist developing a sense of empathy for her subject, which can then be taken to other subjects, like landscape or still life, and even 3-D media like ceramics or sculpture.

For more than 25 years, the Pattee Canyon Ladies Salon has been meeting twice monthly at the home studio of Nancy Erickson to draw the human figure, and next week the artists will open their 15th annual group exhibition at the Brunswick Building Gallery on West Railroad Street in Missoula.

The Salon is comprised of nine women, well-established in the region for their work, but who as a group show great diversity in their preferred media, styles and approaches.

They are Nancy Erickson, Stephanie Frostad, Kristi Hager, Becki Johnson, Beth Lo, Leslie Van Stavern Millar, Shari Montana, Linda Tawney and Janet Whaley. This year’s exhibition will also feature work from a special guest, Kiahsuang Lo, painter and mother of Beth Lo.

“There’s something about coming together as a group of people and focusing our vision, our energy on a common center,” says Stephanie Frostad. “The show is about the dynamic of commonality,” she says, referring to the common subject of their drawing sessions, “and the contrast of the works on display.”

The show, like the group’s efforts in their gatherings, is about the nine different artists and their approaches to the central subject of the figure.

“The nude figure was a basis for Western art from the very beginning,” says Beth Lo. “The viewer has empathy with the figure.”

Nancy Erickson elaborates on that idea by saying, “You can make it new each time you draw the figure. So it’s a good subject for all of us to look at. You learn to draw that way.”

An important idea that emerges from these studies of the figure is how that empathy can be expressed in such a variety of ways and in different media. This year’s show will contain a number of 2-D and 3-D works, almost all of which directly portray the human figure.

The most interesting exception might be from the special guest, Kiahsuang Lo, who points out that figure drawing is not as important in the Chinese tradition. Landscape is often the subject and figures placed in the scenes establish a sense of perspective that enhances the beauty and scale of a larger subject of nature.

Beth and Kiahsuang Lo have collaborated on pieces, with Beth’s ceramics and Kiahsuang Lo’s glaze painting. Other members will present works in pencil, oil pastel, oil paint, gouache, fabric and ceramics.

The Salon is “really about drawing,” says Erickson, “but – and this is very important – it’s also about community.”

That community is certainly a reference to the nine members of the group, but Erickson stresses that “a larger community is very important to all the members of the group. What better opportunity than the annual exhibition to bring this group’s work to the attention of the larger community?”

The exhibition runs Sept. 5, 6, 7 and 9, with opening receptions Thursday, Sept. 5, and Friday, Sept. 6, from 5-8 p.m. at the Brunswick Building, 223 W. Railroad St., Missoula.

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Leland Buck is the Missoulian's Online Editor. Follow @lelandbuck on Twitter or reach him at leland.buck@missoulian.com or 406-523-5212 

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